He marched into the sheriff’s department fit to be tied: he’d been cheated.
According to the Rusk County John Doe, the machine said $3,000 but he’d been paid just $300 and kicked to the curb. He was ready to sue.
Unfortunately for him – and for the 19 “gaming rooms” operating in the county as recently as October – gambling’s illegal in Texas, and the Rusk County Sheriff’s Department and Henderson Police Department had run out of patience.
It wasn’t just the PC-based ‘credit’ gambling masquerading as charity drives, Rusk Co. Sheriff Jeff Price says, it was the nefarious activity that lurked in the shadows of the game rooms.
Prostitution. Drug trafficking. Assaults. Robberies.
They were all going on in the background, Price said; some crimes were reported, most weren’t.
“They all want to complain because grandma went down and lost her Social Security check, but they didn’t complain last week when she won $5,000,” he added. “It’s not so much the gambling aspect of it, it’s the stuff that’s coming with it. It’s all the things that are happening in the background of it.
“Some of it is stuff that we’ve heard through sources, but nothing official because the people didn’t want to come in and make a report on it. If you don’t want to make a report on it, that’s the first clue that tells you something ain’t right.”
In an Oct. 21 letter to game room operators and property owners where the illegal gambling was allegedly taking place, the local authorities set the clock ticking.
“Basically, if you don’t shut down we’re going to file charges on you,” Price said. “Either cease and desist or we will commence an investigation into your activities and anything there will be dealt with accordingly.”
They set the deadline for Oct. 31. Anyone still operating as of Nov. 1 would face the consequences.
Most took the hint, Price said Friday: as of Wednesday, out of 19 targets, only one gaming room was still in operation – located inside the Henderson City Limits, his department is assisting Henderson PD as needed.
“It’s just outright gambling,” he added, computer-based rather than a slot machine: “You basically won credits, but you could cash out at any time, and they would pay you cash based on the credits that you had.
“They’re trying to pass themselves off as a charity group, but they’re taking a profit off of it – that makes it illegal.”
Price likened it to taking a trip to Shreveport or Bossier City: pay to play, reap the rewards or take the losses.
Granted, gambling’s legal in Louisiana.
Not so in Rusk County, Texas, but “There’s been several of them in operation for a while,” he said, dodging enforcement: “They would open up and close down, open up and close down.”
Hence, sending copies of the warning to the owners of the properties where the gambling was taking place, not just to the operators. Notified of the problem, failure to take action and curtail the illegal activity on suspect properties could result in seizure of related assets.
That turned out to be the key, Price added.
“Before we ever got to the gambling, the property owners went in and shut them down. We had that happen in several locations here,” Price said. As for the last lone holdout in Henderson, “Right now we’re working with the city on an investigation into their activities.”
Moving forward, he said, local law enforcement will be keeping a close eye on such activity.
“We know what to look for. We’re going to stay on top of it to keep ‘em out of here. We don’t want it. The public doesn’t want it.”